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The Week That Was: Crises in Communications

The Week That Was: Crises in Communications

June 25, 2017 0 Comments

You know the phrase, everything old is new again? That’s kind of how The Week That Was team felt this week, as we saw more healthcare reform news, more drug pricing news, more talk of tapes and more Uber news. But there was also a special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district and a Supreme Court ruling on trademarks.

Whether it’s the latest development or a new story, you know we’ve got you covered. So sit back and read on for The Week That Was.


Drug overdoses have been named the leading cause of death in Americans under the age of 50. Put another way by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times: “About as many Americans are expected to die this year of drug overdoses as died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.” As the harrowing opioid epidemic rages on, both media and legislators are trying to keep pace with what this means for our country and to how to go about fixing it. Meanwhile, a number of states are suing drug makers for “deceptive marketing practices,” the FDA’s Scott Gottlieb has called for “additional and more forceful” steps to address the crisis, an Express Scripts study reported that nearly one in four Medicaid patients were prescribed opioids in 2015 while insurance-giant Aetna is working on an opioid reduction policy.


For years, public health officials have claimed that pharmaceutical companies’ marketing, combined with irresponsible prescribing practices, are to blame for this mounting crisis. Unfortunately, none of this new research suggests that this epidemic is close to over, which means that the makers of pain medicines will remain under the microscope. Combatting this public health issue will take myriad approaches—from addiction prevention to treatments. Drug makers can help by advocating for patients with legitimate pain, as these people count on these medicines to help lead normal lives. At the same time, companies should acknowledge the risks of pain medicines and help distinguish when not to prescribe or use these drugs. Given that patient voices are often unheard during this debate, companies should work to include patients, caregivers, and third party advocates to facilitate meaningful discussions of how to balance patient need against the risks these drugs can present.


America’s current political climate is populist and protest-fueled. Seeking to look relevant and engaged, corporations increasingly are mixing business with social issues. Most recently, we’ve seen an influx of LGBTQ-themed marketing campaigns by household brands coinciding with Pride Month. McDonald’s added a rainbow to its golden arches, offering limited-edition LGBTQ french fry boxes at Washington, DC-area locations. The company took the announcement as an opportunity to remind the public about the corporation’s inclusive non-discrimination policies for employees. Wells Fargo, which has supported the LGBT community for years through donations and community service, recently launched a more public display of support through its “Standing Together” campaign to profile the impact company-supported nonprofits are making in the community. When asked about the effort, a Wells Fargo employee emphasized that the company sought to move beyond a mere “celebratory rainbow campaign” to be more authentic and meaningful.


Taking a corporate stance on political and social issues through marketing and communications is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Rest assured, some of your customer base, vocal advocates, and select media outlets will question your true intentions and may have significantly different interpretations of your message. If you’re planning to venture into this space, your company stance must: (1) be clear in your communications; and (2) exist beyond marketing. Messages should undergo significant testing by stakeholders, including those with the most critical eye, to assess the range of possible interpretations and to avoid potential public relations issues (who can forget the backlash against Pepsi earlier this year?). Company policies and practices must also align with your message or you risk being perceived as all talk, no action.


Policy news in Washington was dominated by the release of the Senate’s version of the Affordable Care Act replacement. A vote on that bill could happen this week, and differences with the House could be finalized later this summer. Key differences between the two chambers are that tax credits to buy insurance would be income-based in the Senate plan, versus the House’s age-based policy, and the Senate bill has a lower limit on federal Medicaid spending over time.


The repeal of the Affordable Care Act will create uncertainty among some patients— especially those who purchase insurance individually or are covered by Medicaid. And some will be exposed to greater out-of-pocket costs for medications. Biopharmas are likely to be answering more questions about patient assistance from both patients and policymakers whose constituents are feeling more pain in their pockets. Ensuring patient assistance policies are clear from approval date, and that any support for patients and third party groups is transparent, will become even more important for medicines approved late 2017 and beyond.

With the July 4th holiday in sight, we’ll be taking a brief hiatus next week. But not to worry: we’ll keep one eye on the fireworks in the sky and another on the fireworks in DC as the ACA replacement moves closer to a vote. Have a great week and safe holiday—we’ll catch up with you on July 9th.

Until next week,

 The Issues Management Practice @ inVentiv Health Communications

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